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Canada high court declines to hear anti-abortion activist's tax appeal

[JURIST] The Supreme Court of Canada [official website] on Thursday declined [order] to hear an appeal brought by an anti-abortion advocate who refused to pay taxes on the basis that the money could be used to fund abortion [JURIST news archive]. David Little was convicted in 2007 of tax evasion for failing to file tax returns for 2000, 2001, and 2002. The Court of Appeal of New Brunswick [official website] affirmed the conviction [judgment, PDF] in August. Little's legal argument relied on Section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], which establishes and guarantees everyone in Canada the fundamental freedom of "conscience and religion," as well as Section 15(1) which prohibits discrimination. The appeals court rejected Little's arguments:

The non-filing of annual returns, like the non-payment of taxes, does not qualify as a religious practice nor has it become the tenet of any religious faith. The refusals are simply acts of civil disobedience intended to bring about change in government policy, the law, or both. Admittedly, the refusals may be the product of an informed conscience, but the Charter was not intended to insulate such acts from the rule of law. Otherwise, everyone who disagrees with government policies and the expenditure of public monies in furtherance of those policies would be entitled to abandon their obligation to bear their proportionate share of the national debt while continuing to receive no-cost public benefits such as Medicare.

With the Supreme Court's decision not to review the case, Little's conviction will stand [National Post report]. He has until April 25 to file his back taxes and pay the court-ordered fine of $1,000 or serve 22 days in jail for each of the three years in the conviction, but Little refuses to do either. After the Supreme Court's decision, Little challenged the government, asking: "Are they going to put me in jail for the rest of my life?"

While abortion rights remain a controversial issue, so too do the rights of anti-abortion activists. In the US, anti-abortion protesters have recently challenged several laws limiting their ability to protest. In November, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit struck down [JURIST report] a City of Pittsburgh ordinance that created a layered zone structure to prevent protesters from gathering outside abortion facilities, finding that the law was not sufficiently narrowly tailored. In July, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld [JURIST report] a Massachusetts law prohibiting people from protesting directly outside of abortion clinics. The court ruled that the law, which created a 35-foot buffer zone around entrances and exits of reproductive health clinics, was a reasonable response to a significant threat to public safety. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled [JURIST report] that the First Amendment protected an anti-abortion group's right to display graphic pictures of early-term aborted fetuses outside of a California middle school.

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